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LIFE IN A ZONE OF SOCIAL ABANDONMENT
There is a place in the South of Brazil called Vita. Vita was founded in 1987 by Zé das Drogas, a former street kid and drug dealer. After having converted to Pentecostalism, Zé had a vision in which the Spirit told him to open a place where people like him could ﬁnd God and regenerate. Zé and his religious friends squatted private property near downtown Porto Alegre, a comparatively well-off city of some two million people, and started to run a precarious rehabilitation center for drug addicts and alcoholics. Soon Vita’s mission enlarged. An increasing number of homeless, mentally ill, and dying persons began to be dumped there by the police, by the psychiatric and general hospitals, by families and neighbors. Vita’s team then opened an inﬁrmary, where these human beings — most of them without documents or without names — were waiting with death. In March 1995, photographer Torben Eskerod (1997) joined me in an ethnographic journey to document the experience of marginal and poor people afﬂicted by AIDS in several regions of Brazil. Since 1992, I had been charting the new institutions and cultural processes that were emerging through the World Bank–funded management of AIDS (Biehl with Blatt 1995; Biehl 1999, 2000, 2001a). By 1992, the World Bank had approved an unusual loan of 250 million dollars for the creation of a new national program that was supposed to control what many international health experts were calling “the africanization of AIDS in Brazil” (“O sexo inseguro” 1991, 52). I was interested in how new technical, political, and medical strategies were impacting processes of social and biological change among the poorest in urban centers. Gerson Winkler, then coordinator of the AIDS program of the city of Porto Alegre, was very critical of the new AIDS management (which he was also a part of ): “It’s a big lie. What is really at stake is the making of a clear division between the ones who have access to the ﬁnancial and medical provisions of the AIDS world and the ones who don’t. Poor people are lost in the ﬁght for access. The machine does not absorb the demand. It is a ﬁctional government.” Gerson insisted that Torben and I visit Vita, the real place to understand the forms governance and humanness were taking in Brazil: “You must go there. It’s the deposit of life’s leftovers.
Social Text 68, Vol. 19, No. 3, Fall 2001. Copyright © 2001 by Duke University Press.
You will see what being human in this land is becoming, what men do to men.” We found Vita situated on a hill of absolute misery, overcrowded, with tents, a wooden chapel, and an inadequate kitchen, and no hot water or bathroom facilities. Some 200 men were living in the “recovery area”; there were some 150 people in the inﬁrmary. The inﬁrmary was separated from the recovery area by a gate, policed by volunteers who made sure that the sickest would not freely move around the hill. The sickest of Vita wandered around the dust of their lot, rolled on the ground, crouched over and under their beds — when they had beds. Each one was alone; most were silent. There was a stillness there, a kind of relinquishment that comes with waiting, waiting for nothing, a nothingness that is stronger than death. Many of the men who had already passed through the recovery area had taken over a nearby spot of land and built their shacks. A slum, known as “village,” formed around Vita, as if it were radiating outward. The street economy continued there. In spite of Vita’s facade as a rehabilitation center, drugs moved freely between Vita and the village. And there was a consensus among city ofﬁcials and medical professionals that nobody actually recovered at Vita — how could they? Vita means life in a dead language — and that Zé das Drogas and his assistants were embezzling donations. There were even widespread rumors of a clandestine cemetery in the woods. For Zé, Vita, despite its disarray, was “a work of love . . . as precarious as necessary.” Family, city, and state institutions were complicit with that precarious existence, and they kept bringing diseased, criminal, and abandoned bodies to die in Vita. Some of Vita’s tragedies were in fact heard by millions of households. Much of the charity that kept Vita functioning over the years was channeled through the work of a state representative and famous radio talk show host, Jandir Luchesi. In his morning show, he would actually bring some of the abandonados in, pleading with and scolding his radio audience: “Does anyone know this person? Who on earth could have done this to him?” He voiced moral indignation over their fate and attracted food and clothing donations while also carrying out his own political campaigning. Yet in spite of Luchesi’s impressive campaigns, Vita was mostly visited by crentes (believers), poor volunteers from nearby Pentecostal churches who brought gifts and preached and tried to convert the abandonados to God. Vita was sporadically visited also by a few health professionals, such as Dr. Eriberto, who spent two hours per week there administering donated (and all too often expired) medications. Zé’s rhetoric was ﬁlled with outrage. He repeated biblical verses and made a prophetic case for himself: “While we are struggling, others are sleeping, are not doing anything. One sees so much injustice that there are no words to express it.”
Who will hear their stories on the radio and “recognize that that is me?” And they belong to Vita. spitting. they must plan to leave. coughing. as do many in Brazil: simple people. 77). one wonders what kind of social order could allow such a disposal of the Other in Vita without indicting itself. There was no apparent aggression. fathers. uncles.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 133 “Untitled” by Torben Eskerod Scratching bugs and scabs away. only a few even looked at us in the inﬁrmary. There is no other place for them to go. aunts — unclaimed lives in terminal desolation. In this essay. daughters. some of whom still recollect being grandparents. humiliated. But when some do manage to escape. Still. mothers. sons. I describe the “animalization” of human beings in Vita and examine some of the bureaucratic procedures and moral actions that Vita 133 . to return. they beg. If anthropologist Robert Hertz is right that the deceased is not only a biological entity but also a “social being grafted upon the physical individual” (1960. we thought.
one of the volunteers. That woman’s fate would remain unassimilated to us. sense of intolerability. in our blend of learned indifference.” Torben could not bear to take her photograph — the impossibility of truly portraying what is left of the human in Vita. The reality of Vita had engulfed prior photographic automatism and our thinking. we could see that her head was full of small holes. As a citizen of that land. “Millions of bichinhos [little animals].” said Jorge. These institutions and Vita are in fact symbiotic: they make death’s job easier. And before that? Nobody knew. through the streets of Porto Alegre — and in the end she was putrefying even before death. Where did this woman come from? The police found her on the streets and took her to a hospital. As she came to Vita without a name. This woman passed through the police. she crouched over a stream of urine. hunched over the bed in the women’s room. As we got closer. I use the impersonal expression “death’s job” to highlight the fact that there is no direct legal accountability to the dying in Vita. anthropology also attempts to fashion ethical responsiveness. through the hospital. This is a socially authorized death. Before living in the street.” that is. the 134 João Biehl . she had legal residence in the São Pedro Psychiatric Hospital but was evicted as “cured. which refused to take her in or even to clean her. In a corner. Here the notion of a perpetrator or killer has also been suspended. it was distressing to realize how well I had learned to be overly familiar with such silent agony in front of me. we came upon a middleaged woman sitting on the inﬁrmary’s ground. It is clear that dying such as hers is constituted in the interaction of modern human institutions. through psychiatric conﬁnement and medication. was Sida. The nameless woman was not unique. She was diagnosed with AIDS. and we partook of it in our foreign and native gazing. She was left there by the social workers of the Conceição Hospital in early 1995. “We tried to clean it. perhaps eighteen years old. To give death the place in reality and in our thoughts that is its due — that’s what this work is ultimately about. generated from her own ﬂesh and dirt. mundane and unaccounted for. and failed witnessing. her genitals matted with dust.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 134 help to make these people socially invisible as they are abandoned to this most extreme misfortune. overmedicated and no longer violent. Animalized The ﬁrst day that Torben and I went to Vita. So the police brought her to Vita. While bringing to light the bodily decrepitude and the forms of wakefulness and waiting that accompany this experience of social death.
the dead spreading death . Zé once told me: “If the hospitals kept these people they would be mad. Too many of the wasted bodies I saw in Vita also presented skin lesions and TB symptoms. Vita is the word for a life that is socially dead. society operates through market dynamics. clashing with our sobs our cries of mourning. generations strewn on the ground unburied. Here they are persons. is to be equated Vita 135 . . Sida does not receive any other treatment than a domestic animal would. unwept. one long cortege. so many deaths. 30). for the poorest one-ﬁfth of humanity now lives in this most extreme misery (World Health Organization 1995). But I was also intrigued by the paradox voiced by Zé: that these creatures — with apparently no ancestors. and the wild hymn for the Healer blazes out. look. . Thebes. and sometimes when nobody is watching she comes down from her bed and eats. No one ever came to visit Sida. Sida and the nameless woman did not simply bring their own ﬂesh to sacriﬁce. a destiny of death that is collective. no end —Thebes is dying. but were simply described as velhinhos (old people) or loucos (mad). treating the abandonados as “dying matter” might release individuals and institutions from the obligation of some sort of responsiveness and care. . city of death. which is “AIDS” in Spanish. and the logic of the market is such that if one is no longer useful one is worth nothing. are breaking apart. . I was surprised that the volunteers believed that Sida and a young man were the only AIDS cases there. They were condemned in advance as Oedipus’s fate was tied to the decay of Thebes. and inscribe the histories of lives “whom the state hardly thinks worth counting at all” (Scheper-Hughes 1992. no goods of their own — actually acquire personhood in their dying. (Sophocles 1984. according to Zé. I was told that she does not speak to anyone and that sometimes she does not eat for three or four days straight. Ethnography is challenged to identify the “political economic order that reproduces sickness and death at its very base. in the streets they would be beggars or zombies.” and to listen to.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 135 volunteers began to call her Sida. Death. wails for mercy rise. “We have to leave the food in a bowl in the corridor. numberless deaths on deaths. Society lets them rot because they don’t give anything in return anymore. and the suffering rises. 169). collect. Yes. Vita is a microcosm of Brazil.” Like most people there. The fact that personhood. her children stripped of pity . Their tragedy is both personal and social. I began to think of them as part of a hidden and uncharted local AIDS reality.” He was right on many counts: disciplinary sites of conﬁnement. To say it is a microcosm is to understate. no name. including the family and psychiatry.
According to Sônia Fleury.” wrote Gilles Deleuze (1995). these “non-citizens” might be entitled to some minimum form of social assistance and charity as long as they renounce political rights — this is their “inverted citizenship” (cited by Escorel 1993. it’s true. Like the woman of the size of a child. “She is my baby. She screams things I don’t understand. The abandonados in Vita are the carriers and witnesses of the ways in which social destinies of the poorest and the sickest are ordered. People say that once she couldn’t give anything to the family anymore — “and worse. city. and denied to the majority of poor and marginal populations.” said a volunteer. Brazil’s welfare system has been historically structured in such a way that the state’s intervention varies according to the population segment claiming social protection. a former intravenous drug user who long ago lost custody of her two children and now spends her days caring for the old woman. and the state. Citizenship has been conceived as universal for the minority rich. lost symbolic supports for their existence. Those occupying the upper strata of society not only live longer. their right to live longer is bureaucratically decreed or biomedically ensured through the mechanisms of the market. “One thing. “You shall be a person there. the moral economy of Brazilian society is made visible. Vita does not guarantee the survival of these abandonados.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 136 with having a place to die in abandonment and in public exempliﬁes the machinery of social death in Brazil today. 35). Letting Die In Vita we are not just looking at isolated individuals who.” The utter desolation and animalization of these abandonados is 136 João Biehl . . The experience of these who live in such a dead space/language is traversed by the country’s structural readjustment.” said Angela. malfunctioning public health system. . where the market needs you” (Beck and Ziegler 1997. completely curled up in a cradle. on their own. 5). and blind. As a reﬂection and extension of what has become of family. it makes their regeneration impossible and their dying imminent. regulated according to market inception for the working class and middle class. In Vita. “she was still eating the family’s food”— relatives hid her in a basement for years. too poor to have debts and too numerous to be conﬁned: control will have to deal not only with vanishing frontiers. and infamously unequal distribution of wealth and technology. but with mushrooming shantytowns and ghettos” (181). “A man is no longer a man conﬁned but a man in debt. unemployment. hasn’t changed — capitalism still keeps three quarters of humanity in extreme poverty. “Till today I have not discovered her name .
was capable of ravaging the mind and body of a person. but nowords. However. He also knew where he once lived: “Charqueadas. hhhrhrraaahhgrrrrss . a death social in origin. prohibitions. . In the face of increasing economic and biomedical inequality and the family’s breakdown. make him return for scheduling appointments.” Marcel Mauss showed that in many supposedly lower civilizations.” And smiled. Vita 137 . human bodies are routinely separated from their normal political status and abandoned to the most extreme misfortunes. Vita as a social destiny. He muttered: “Pedro. this technical and political managment of AIDS is representative of the novel ways in which the restructuring state is Social death and selective life extension coexist in Brazil. put him in line. that there is nothing to be done. hands shaking. “Grrrahaaa . Vita as a social destiny. Then the clinic can claim.” He then grabbed his throat. 38). without any other factors. it will probably be too late. The social is the domain of the needy.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 137 met by rote and sporadic response. . Mauss argued that these facts are uncommon or nonexistent in our own civilization. Indeed. . people were left to think that they were in fact inexorably in a state close to death. the doctors would not see him. eyes cast downward. When they brought him to the University Hospital. . . Consider the old man. Family members had left him at Vita’s gate. even though the volunteers told me he had no name. Once removed from society. for they are dependent on institutions and beliefs such as witchcraft. When there will ﬁnally be time for Pedro. The volunteers told me that Pedro probably had throat cancer. and taboos that “have disappeared from the ranks of our society” (1979.” I couldn’t understand: not the absence of words. but they will postpone seeing him. I could see signs of Vita everywhere: death and dying in the midst of the cities. I also saw how in Brazil’s highly publicized biotechnological management of AIDS (Rosenberg 2001) some circumscribed afﬂicted populations are being newly addressed by the state. they told him to return in three months. a skeletal body. . and many died for this reason. I could see signs of Vita everywhere: death and dying in the midst of the cities. . I asked his name. as we see it in Vita. 21) has put it. Just so is Vita’s overall precariousness maintained by intermittent pastoral acts and a distant media-voiced indignation. As philosopher Renato Janine Ribeiro (2000. As I traveled throughout the country. as with too many of these abandonados. and society refers to the efﬁcient ones. In his essay “The Physical Effect on the Individual of the Idea of Death Suggested by the Collectivity. but they did not know for sure. there is a continuous place for death in the contemporary polis. . ahhrgaaahgrqqaa .” Social death and selective life extension coexist in Brazil. The clinic will not refuse to see him. “In Brazil it is actually possible to imagine a discourse that aims at the end of the social in order to emancipate society. . As I traveled throughout the country.
families had to have their own provisions for the time to come. and these AIDS citizens participate and give form to a novel pharmaceutical market (either as drug consumers. are actually made absent from epidemiology. for how long. but only on a selective basis — who. each street surveyed by an inspector. There was a strict partitioning of the plagued town. policy. and at what cost? In this context. The plague also witnessed the free movement of those abject people known as “crows” who were allowed to move freely through the cities. No one was allowed to leave the town. answering to his name and showing himself when asked — it is the great review of the living and the dead” (Foucault 1979. each quarter was governed by a superintendent. Here selective “marketable” groups are addressed as “the society” and reorganized in terms of individual “improvement” (through prevention campaigns and access to antiretroviral treatments). the market. biologically speaking. I show how pastoral organizations help some of the abandonados with AIDS to change their lifestyles so that they can access welfare and the coveted antiretrovirals now “universally” available by the government. In my larger research project. everyone at his window. sick. and science meet: there is a contradiction between a generalized culture of human rights and emergent exclusive structures through which these rights are realized. or as participants in clinical trials). “letting die” is a political action.” so to speak. and health care (Biehl 1999. as activists demanding drug supplies. stray animals were slaughtered. The development of functional discriminations (the “good” 138 João Biehl .ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 138 experimenting with governmentality and rewriting the social contract. continuous with the biomedical and political power that “makes live. Once death was integrated into the apparatuses of government. while the poorest and “useless. A whole new reality principle came into existence: each individual was located. 2001a). then politics began to determine not just how one should live but who should be let to die. “Everyone locked up in his cage. and categorized as living.” The Politics of Death The beginnings of such modern matrixes of governance can be traced to the management of death during the plague in seventeenth-century Europe. This community-mediated triage process engenders a selective form of biomedical citizenship. I understand Vita as a kind of “negative” of this biopolitical paradigm that is increasingly familiar in late modern settings wherein the state. 2000. now and then helping to carry the sick and bury the abandoned dead until they too died in their wanderings. or dead. examined. 196).
but life exposed to death” (1998. 24. directed the redistribution of welfare provisions. and to allocate access to economic and social beneﬁts. the being concerned with physiological existence. and provided a moral ground for the systems of social exclusion and inclusion. invaded the natural sciences through the experiment. politics has been increasingly played out in modern humanity’s physiology: “what might be called a society’s ‘threshold of modernity’ has been reached when the life of the species is wagered on its own political strategies .ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 139 and “bad” poor. The homo faber gave way to the homo laborans. Arendt argued that in the postwar era political action was replaced by a primary focus on the control of natural life. This happens within the fabric of a Christian society. Following Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault. through the attempt to imitate under artiﬁcial conditions the process of ‘making’ by which a natural thing came into existence. serves as well or even better as the principle for doing in the realm of human affairs” (299). Modern societies operate with implicit systems of limits and exclusion that “exacerbate biological disorders” among the poorest (Farmer 1999. see also 1999). of biological processes. In The Human Condition (1958). The function of death within the economy of biopower is guided by a biological and not a warlike principle. the Other’s death is equivalent to the biological reinforcement of myself as a member of a population or race or as an element of a coherent and living plurality. as we saw. As Foucault (1980. philosopher Giorgio Agamben argues that the original political element of sovereign power in Western democracies is “not simple natural life. citizenry. . Science has played a key role in this transformation: “In other words. in the democratically and economically readjusting environment of Brazil. and it is so because the fundamental belief in the sacredness of life has survived. modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question. excluded from political life). 4). the process which. 143) wrote. to enforce who they want to see as their citizens. the unemployed. the purer I am” (1992. .” Governments use biopolitics to provide populational stability. “The only thing that could now be potentially immor- Vita 139 . As I see it in Vita and throughout the experience of AIDS in Brazil: the ones incapable of living up to the new requirements of market competitiveness and proﬁtability are socially included through their dying in abandonment. 184). That is. the idle. Today. argues Foucault: “The more the Other dies. and economy for some. those who can do some work and those who cannot) sharpened the focus of charity. sick and impoverished groups are not directly killed by the state (even though police violence is still frequent) or made politically dead (that is. at the same time that they consolidate self.
. as immortal as the body politic in Antiquity and as individual life during the Middle Ages. which is to say. Agamben argues that such an embodied violence. Life that cannot be sacriﬁced and yet may be killed is sacred life” (82). “The ban is essentially the power of delivering something over to itself. and at once it becomes possible both to protect life and to authorize a holocaust. most sterile passivity history has ever known” (321. . particularly in the ﬁgure of the homo sacer. Agamben points out that the determinant structure of our modern ways of ordering public spaces and political relations is in relation to a ban. In the body of the homo sacer. This particular form of life was caught in a double exception. the power of maintaining itself in relation to something presupposed as nonrelational. As Arendt concludes: “The loss of human experience involved in this development is extraordinarily striking [. was life itself.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 140 tal. the possibly everlasting life process of the species mankind” (321).] it is quite conceivable that the modern age — which began with such an unprecedented and promising outburst of human activity — may end in the deadliest. the possibilities of the social sciences are made known. with the capacity to be killed (without legal charge of homicide) but not sacriﬁced. at the same time. For the ﬁrst time in history. and homo sacer is the one with respect to whom all men act as sovereigns” (84. The “sacred man” was the one convicted as a criminal. political and social forms of life (and thereby intersubjectivity) have entered into a symbiosis with death without it belonging to the world of the deceased. so homo sacer belongs to God in the form of unsacriﬁceability and is included in the community in the form of being able to be killed. applies to the exceptional case in no longer applying and in withdrawing from it. removed and at the same time captured” (109 –10). Giorgio Agamben (1998) locates the beginnings of the structures of sovereign administration of bare life in ancient Roman law. This action is a human extension of the state of exception. that proper political space of the West: “The sovereign is the one with respect to whom all men are potentially homines sacri. subtracted from human and divine law. that is. opened up a new sphere of legitimate action. consigned to the mercy of the one who abandons it — at once excluded and included. achieved through the most sophisticated political techniques. see also Taussig 1986). What has been banned is delivered over to its own separateness and. “Just as the law.” I understand this “bestialization of man” literally: of the “living animals” who have their physiologies protected by the 140 João Biehl . in the sovereign exception. Agamben (1998. 3) quotes Foucault as saying that the entry of life in the epicenter of the modern polis was in fact followed by “a kind of bestialization of man. Vita. 322).
Luiz made his house in the place formerly destined to the rabbits. Consider these facts.” reported the state’s human rights commission (Assembléia Legislativa do Estado do Rio Grande do Sul. and I am struggling to understand what makes life and death so intimate with each other. Following Vita’s model but charging for care.” “thieves. . he has to go through a small door no more than half a meter high. 108). a ﬁfty-eightyear-old man was bitten to death by dogs in a geriatric house in Porto Alegre.” “whores. In 1998 some twenty homeless persons.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 141 known biopolitical principles and selective interventions and of those not considered worth living and so are massively put to die — animalized.” I don’t know precisely what I mean when I say “die each other”— but I have seen the complexity of what happens in Vita. By self-generated. precarious geriatric “homes” are spreading in the region at an ever accelerated pace. they are traced as “drug addicts. including children. 150 miles away from Porto Alegre. “He is handicapped and an unemployed auto worker. 2000. “Luiz Carlos Apio is one of the new residents of the Zoo.” wrote the Brazilian Jornal da ciência (SBPC 1998). Moreover. Clifford Geertz (2001) provided some chilling reﬂections on the Yanomami’s technically and politically engineered demise as well as on our own blindness to this modern form of life/disappearance: “Now that their values as control group. invaded an abandoned zoological garden in the city of Pelotas. anywhere on Vita 141 . They have erased their origins as well as the complex social causes that seem to exacerbate infections and immune depressions.’ genetically ‘ancestral population’— the ‘last major primitive tribe . Elderly and the mentally ill live together in “inhuman conditions” in these sites. “Bits of skin were all over the ground. a (supposedly) ‘natural. says a local activist: “People are conﬁned and have no medical care. In order to enter. Recently. . The squatters made their rooms in the cages. Vita’s environment is so precarious that the sickest are constantly exchanging diseases with the mad. so to speak. I mean that these noncitizens only become partially visible in the health system when they are dying. Some of these businesses are surrounded by barbed wire like camps. in Vita we see that marginal and diseased groups are included in the social order through their dying as if it had been selfgenerated. humanly and institutionally.” labels in which their personhood is cast and which allow them to be socially blamed for their dying. and they have no other possibility but “to die each other.” Ethics As I mentioned before.” On 2 July 1999.
“Sou capado” (“I am castrated”). and to account for the human dying and life making within it. the last attachment to their wandering in abandonment. its mediations. and the human being as a “remnant” (Agamben 1999).’ is diminished or disappeared and the experiments upon them have ceased and the experimenters departed. a loss that is socially. a blanket.” says the caretaker. “Perhaps he was hospitalized before. They are his sole property. and social) with the conditions for being alive or living dead? To bring this ever-renewed paradigm out of concealment.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 142 earth. “The love of anthropology.” says a volunteer. or used drugs. biomedical. Some nurse a wound.” No money circulates in Vita. a form of life that begins where dignity ends as social reason proceeds enveloped in blindness (Kleinman 1999). an empty bottle. so that everybody can hear. a broken radio. eat shit. 193). Loud. decides who its homo sacer— the new living dead — will be. there is nothing to be bought or sold. and replace the things in the bag. The objects mark the singularity of these abandonados as beings for death. politically and technologically mediated.” some simply count their ﬁngers. Cast away into oblivion. sets the limits. a piece of sugar cane. How to account for the ever-accelerated experimentation (political. 142 João Biehl . the sense of a possible search. is at the same to “return thought to its practical calling” (Agamben 1998. Vita is a place in the world for populations of “ex-humans. he shows his left arm and injects himself with the right hand. There is a man who walks with garbage bags the whole day long. put him to sleep. And he keeps screaming. some repeat a word or sentence like “Devil. to the most extreme misfortunes.” Nobody mourns them. what sort of presence in our minds. are they now to have? What sort of place in the world does an ‘ex-primitive’ have?” (21. that experimented with and negated thing that ultimately informs the positivity of science and society. and its accompanying moral blindness. “then we give him a tranquilizer. 5). I am thinking of culture as that reality that is being lost. sou capado. as domestic animals are. an old magazine. to expose its machinery. extratemporal and extraterritorial thresholds are created in which the human body is separated from its normal political status and abandoned. Here. Every society. argues Agamben. “Sou capado. 22). Many inhabitants cradle something — a plastic bag. a doll. a thread. The objects are a defense against that which institutes them as dead in life and the gifts that will not be given away. and the course of self-governance and morality in the city.” These things they carry sustain a wakefulness. a young man screams. He bites people who try to take the trash away from him. As I approach.” writes Veena Das. “I allow the knowledge of the Other to mark me” (1988. “Sometimes there is food rotting in the bags. these beings for death are also the threshold of a new ethics. in a state of exception. what sort of whatness.
” Luis ran many times away from Vita and then returned because his family in the nearby town of Canoas does not want to know him: “I began when I was twelve years old. Under Captain Osvaldo. however. We will rescue their citizenship. legs. I did not respect my mother anymore. and housing. a medical and dental clinic. Vita began to be administered by a chief of police. People in the inﬁrmary continued to live in utter abandonment. He is also in charge of Luchesi’s personal security and studies law at night. Vita also raises money through its bakery. If these three things coexist then there is a ‘why’ for the person to live. I robbed the family.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 143 The Future I returned to Vita in 1997. people were being disciplined and regenerated as a drug-free and productive labor force — a few of them even had access to state-funded AIDS disability pensions and new therapies. November of 1996. and a large building for jobtraining workshops. although not in the inﬁrmary: lodging houses and shacks are replacing the tents. In the recovery area. rooms for a pharmacy. The most important thing is food.” Several of the inhabitants of the recovery area refer to what is going on as a “modernizing change. two years after the ﬁrst visit. Before we used to get a big bowl and ate with our hands. Throwing the person in here and ﬁlling him with religious doctrine does not solve the problem either. and there are new administration ofﬁces. “See these scars. now a kind of “model” of the human regeneration and citizenship that is possible within the Brazilian raison d’état. I lost my character. As the captain sees it: “I don’t believe that people recover in hospitals with more medication. waiting with death. I injected wherever there was a vein. when he was just eighteen. Now we have trays.” As Luis put is: “Now we eat as human beings. and forehead: “Even in my head. I pierced it. Luis ﬁrst came to Vita in 1987. Vita has become an entity of public utility — part of its funding now comes from the state of Rio Grande do Sul. In the previous year. Monthly contributions from Vita’s Friends and industry donations provide for daily living.” And he pointed to his arms.” says the captain. Zé das Drogas was removed from the establishment by a philanthropic coalition called Amigos do Vita headed by Representative Luchesi. Vita 143 . There is much construction going on in the recovery area.” A former drug addict. Vita is undergoing impressive structural changes: “an environmental transformation. Captain Osvaldo. I was so mad. See my throat. This time I could also see in Vita the coexistence of social death with an incipient selective citizenship generated by a kind of biosocial rebirth. Captain Osvaldo proudly considers himself the “mayor” of Vita. work.
Luis was a petty thief.” 144 João Biehl . I am learning to make chairs.” When out of Vita. up to the mouth. After dinner there is a collective meeting. group self-reﬂection. I hope I can stay here the rest of my life.” The residents also “never saw the donations. all HIV-positive: “It was natural. That’s the platform of our work: they are useful. Then afterwards. Once they stuck a broom in a guy’s ass. we see the building going on . it is there that they belong. Nair. they are important. I like being dependent here. daily life in the recovery area was structured around worship and Bible studies. Three of his friends from the drug circle had already died of AIDS. “If I was man enough to do it to myself. Then they brought me here. total abstinence from smoking and drinking.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 144 I became garbage. as well as internal promotions. ﬁlled with roaches and rats. he was “hit hard with the news” but decided to face it as a man.” Luis said that under Zé’s administration there was “too much liberty. I was quiet. and endured it. where the log of daily occurrences is read.” no control at all: “We were allowed to come back even if we were drunk or high. . According to the captain: This is the time of justice.” During Zé das Drogas’s administration. it is their life. In 1990 he was caught shoplifting and sentenced to two years in the Porto Alegre Central Prison. work therapy. civic values. To call someone by his name rescues personhood. and welcome.” Luis says that there are many people who are HIV-positive in the recovery area. I had to be man enough to face it. Now there is a deadline for that: “We expect them to recover in six to eight months.” Because of his good behavior. The social worker will register me to get an AIDS pension. Soon they had two more kids. Now it is much more rigorous. When there are faults and wrongdoings. at Luchesi’s Radio Program. and survived. “I saw the worst. I work in here.” In 1993 he met his wife. Zé das Drogas allowed them to live together in a tent in Vita. we report them and punish them harsh. But I was cool. part of something. “but they don’t want to admit it. We mention the working shifts for the next days. no return.” In 1992 Luis decided to take the HIV test. Three strikes out for good. eating well. We will help them to be placed in the market. Testing positive. Vita is his family and working place. he is proud of who he is becoming: “I am weak. Now everything changed for the better. I feel safe in Vita. . They must rescue themselves. makes that person feel important. the tents were rotten. now the emphasis is on personal hygiene. For us who are addicted and sick this is very good. then ﬁfteen but already the mother of a little girl. Luis has been able to guarantee Vita’s support for his efforts to ensure access to medical and welfare provisions.
but they don’t miss me. Then a few hours later she mumbles to be untied. they wake up next to those who are socially dead. . like “Sida. . better. Men who are rehabilitating have to take care of the abandoned. that’s their end. We cannot bring them back to society. After many visits. I also saw that the abandonados are not kept alive in vain. they don’t have anything to give anymore. to be their own state. tuberculosis. In the end. without tie. clean their shit. without name. the abandoned. They have AIDS. for if they don’t change. She does that when she feels like killing herself. it is up to them to govern themselves. In their dying in Vita. The inﬁrmary is useful as “a platform of information for the ones down here. Their social death is the imago of the future. here one sees a truth. Once these citizens get into the real world. the aged ones.” the nameless young woman with AIDS who. the negative ones educate potential citizens — or. Simply put. probably in her mid-thirties. They don’t exist as a juridical fact. move their bodies back and forth.” said one of the administrators: “It is useful for the addict to fall into reality. . As horrible as it is. It represents the putrefaction of the street. There is where the mentally ill are. It is a deposit of human beings. blind. without origin. and silent suffering lies the new role of these abandoned men and women as negative citizens. they still have a last social function. “now and then asks us to tie her on her bed. . What does one expect from them? Nothing.” In their alleged incapacity to produce nothing else but bodily infections.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 145 What about the inﬁrmary? It is very difﬁcult. according to volunteers. parasites. As they are being healed in that “militarized” and philanthropic setting. the market (Brazil’s currency is called real ). with their daily rations of bread and bean soup and hot water. Vita 145 . that is. neither pardoned nor buried.” said Catarina. . I say “concept” of citizenship because the state is not guaranteeing the means for this regenerated citizenship to become a structural possibility and because pastoral sites like Vita make the marginal’s personal regeneration as citizen possible and livable only as a ﬁction for a certain limited time period. provide ground for the appearance of a distinct concept of citizenship. they will be that which they are now. How do you understand such a person?” A Society of Bodies “People remember me. riding an old exercise bicycle and holding a doll. . all these things which don’t exist in statistics. simply living dead.
and tragic points of inception into Vita. I. in her “madness. I asked Catarina why she thought families and doctors sent people to Vita: “They say that it’s better to place us here so that we don’t have to be left alone at home. Now I can no longer go. Then many times one does not want to return home. and besides. the lover. whose voices are excluded by their diagnosis. My brothers brought me here. psychological. It is very complicated for me to get to a clinic. One gets dependent. The only way back to her actual child is through the clinic. despite her efforts to go somewhere else. Suspended in that zone of abandonment. The abandoned subject is not originally so. the given-away daughter.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 146 Where on earth does she think that she is going? I thought. In order to be able to return home. I am already used to being here. never leaving Vita. Throughout my time at Vita. She included the anthropologist: “I think of us. Since I arrived here I have not seen my children. They knew nothing about her life outside Vita. I will not like it. She voices a desire for reconstitution: “It is not that one does not want to return home. And linked with Catarina’s pronoun “I” are the innumerable social and intersubjective transactions that codetermine her suffering. I must wait for some time. She holds a doll instead of her child.” We are left with her account. One is always dependent on the caretakers here. “One gets dependent. I have a daughter called Adriana.” Catarina says. Catarina’s condition has a genealogy and medical.” But she recognizes that “now I can no longer go.” I asked the caretakers if they knew something about Catarina’s life history. I must go to a clinic ﬁrst. In voices coming from such extreme places. She cycles endlessly on a stationary bicycle. I then heard that woman of kind manners and a piercing gaze attempting to reconstitute a life: I am here because I have problems with my feet. I exercise. the caretakers. I learned to think with the inarticulate theoria of people like Catarina. Her father gave her away to his boss. It is not that one does not want to return home. and ethical are directly linked and how carefully the human is institutionally and relationally manufactured to the point of Catarina’s expulsion from reality and symbolic immobility. Catarina knows that this is fantasy and that she is trapped in the machinery of Vita. I understand how the physical. Sometimes a doctor comes here. I take medicine. the brothers. The truth of Catarina’s condition as a “leftover” is located in the split between her own mortiﬁed body and a social body that vanishes from her. in my thinking. No. in solitude. see that people forgot me. I began a treatment a long time ago. She knowingly brings them forth in the ﬁgures of the doctor. They said she was “mad. social.” On another occasion in 1999.” away from Vita. that there 146 João Biehl .
. and Amèlie Rorty for their engagement in one form or another with this work. Stanley Holwitz. . I stopped to bid Catarina farewell. This is the word she was writing: Contact.”1 Her handwriting was uneven and betrayed a minimal literacy. I was amazed by what I read: Discipline Diagnostics Operation Reality To apply an injection To get a spasm In the body A Cerebral spasm Before leaving that day. a society of bodies. Fausto Biehl. 1. Paul Rabinow. Noemia Biehl. and I want to reiterate that since 1997 Vita has been undergoing major restructuring under the coordination of the Sociedade de Amigos do Vita. Torben Eskerod. Vita 147 . J. and the illnesses I had as a child. Robert Kimball. “It’s my dictionary.” Catarina refused to be placed out of history. I write all the illnesses I have now. . And all of us together. Fischer. we form a society. Michael M. Byron Good. Luis Guilherme Streb. Arthur Kleinman. I have recently elaborated on Catarina’s “dictionary” in a paper entitled “Social Psychosis/Society of Bodies” (2001b). The materials presented in this essay are mostly representative of my initial work in Vita in 1995. Thank you also to Gerson Winkler. I am grateful for the support of the Committee on Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences of Princeton University.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 147 are more people like us here. Notes I am very thankful to the inhabitants of Vita and to Vita’s administrators and volunteers for letting me participate in their everyday life and work (their names have been changed here). Nancy Scheper-Hughes. This was the beginning of a very powerful working-through process that we are still in the midst of. Burton Singer. I write so that I don’t forget the words. Adriana Petryna. She showed me a notebook she keeps in her suitcase.
Biehl. 1999. Sarah. biopolitics. Other life: AIDS. Escorel. 1960. with Jessica Blatt. New York: Vintage Books. and disorder. ———. Foucault. Deleuze. 1998. Berkeley: University of California Press. Hannah. 2001b. 18 – 22. Beck. 1999. human conditions. 1997. A contribution to the study of the collective representation of death. 1999. Porto Alegre: Assembléia Legislativa. Kleinman. In Sociology and psychology: Essays. H. Social psychosis/Society of bodies. Veena. Das. Marcel. Copenhagen: Rhodos.: Stanford University Press. no. New York: Zone Books. Biotechnology and the new politics of life and death in Brazil. The history of sexuality. An introduction. 1979. Paper presented at the Department of Social Medicine. Princeton University. Ulrich. Relatório azul: Garantias e violacões dos direitos humanos. ———. 1980. and Psychiatry 25: 87–129. Glencoe. Ann Arbor. Medicine. 1997. Geertz. Life among the anthros. Michel. 1958. In New York Review of Books. 1995. in der wir leben. Remnants of Auschwitz: The witness and the archive. Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Paper presented at the Department of Anthropology. João. Study document. New York: Columbia University Press. ———. Giorgio. Ansighter. 1972 –1990. Infections and inequalities: The modern plagues. 8 February 2001. 2000. 1979. ———. The physical effect on the individual of the idea of death suggested by the collectivity. 1998. Assembléia Legislativa do Estado do Rio Grande do Sul — Comissão de Cidadania e Direitos Humanos. In Negotiations. Arendt. In The Tanner lectures on human values. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. Eigenes Leben: Ausﬂüge in die unbekannte Gesellschaft. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1993.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 148 References Agamben. Culture. Farmer. Clifford. Life on paper: A trip through AIDS in Brazil. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ———. Eskerod. and Ulf Erdmann Ziegler (with photographs by Timm Rauter). Experience and its moral modes: Culture.: UMI Dissertation Services. Harvard Medical School. Hertz. Rio de Janeiro: ISER. e gestão em saúde. Stanford. 1992. João. 1995. Homo sacer: Sovereignty and bare life. Calif. Technology and affect: HIV/AIDS testing in Brazil. 1. Robert. Munich: Verlag C. Wittgenstein and anthropology. 1. Beck. Arthur. In Annual Review of Anthropology. New York: Vintage Books. Biehl. 2001. 1999. 1999/2000. translated by Martin Joughin. Ill. 2000. Gilles. and subjectivity in Brazil’s zones of social abandonment. In Death & the right hand. Elementos para uma análise da conﬁguração brasileira de proteção social: O Brasil tem um welfare state? In Série estudos — Política. Torben. no. Buenos Aires: Editorial Altamira. The human condition. 27. Postscript on control societies.: Free Press. 148 João Biehl . Mich. Paul. 2001a. Genealogia del racismo. ———. planejamento. Mauss. vol.
The world health report 1995: Bridging the gap. World Health Organization. Renato Janine. New York Times Magazine. 2001. Vita 149 . Isto É/Senhor. Shamanism. Scheper-Hughes. “Oedipus the king. Ribeiro. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Rosenberg. Jornal da ciência (São Paulo). Death without weeping: The violence of everyday life in Brazil. and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing. Berkeley: University of California Press. Michael. Nancy. 52. Colonialism. 20 November. Taussig. SBPC. Sophocles. Tina. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 149 O sexo inseguro. 1986. 2000. New York: Penguin. How to solve the world’s AIDS crisis.” In The three Theban plays. 1984. 1995. A sociedade contra o social: O alto custo da vida pública no Brasil. Geneva: World Health Organization. 1992. 28 January. 20 November 1991. 1998.
unaccounted. 120. 1447. (D) samples. . complimentary.1) sales through dealers and carriers. street vendors and counter sales. spoiled after printing. 529.2) paid mail subscriptions. and other free copies. (H. 1169. 68. 183. (H. (D) samples. street vendors and counter sales. complimentary. 349. Actual number of copies of a single issue published nearest to ﬁling date: (A) total number of copies printed. (B. 0. (B. (I) total.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 150 Extent and Nature of Circulation Average number of copies of each issue published during the preceding twelve months. 63. (A) total number of copies printed. (E) free distribution outside the mail (carriers or other means). (H.2) returns from news agents. 1169. (G) total distribution (sum of C & F). 0. (I) total. leftover. 60 (F) total free distribution (sum of D & E).2) returns from news agents.2) paid mail subscriptions.1) sales through dealers and carriers. 1447. and other free copies.(G) total distribution (sum of C & F). (B. 907. (C) total paid circulation. 85. spoiled after printing. (H. (B. unaccounted. (C) total paid circulation. leftover. 1035.1) ofﬁce use. (E) free distribution outside the mail (carriers or other means). 797. (F) total free distribution (sum of D & E). 614. 128. 372. 412.1) ofﬁce use. 558.
please contact Michèle Sharon-Glassford at 732-932-1503. postal and e-mail addresses. fourteenth edition. which is slated to appear in fall 2002.rutgers. and sent to: Michèle Sharon-Glassford Managing Editor Social Text c/o CCACC 8 Bishop Place New Brunswick. migration. afﬁliation. For additional information. theocracy. formations of terror. and telephone number should be listed on the front page of each copy. We welcome a range of formats and perspectives for the issue. 22 January 2002. For questions of style. We encourage submissions that can recast prevailing terms of coverage and commentary and that take a longer analytic view on matters of geopolitics. Papers should be received no later than Tuesday. Text should be double-spaced. and conditions of opposition.ST 68-07 Biehl call 10/25/01 3:13 PM Page 151 Call for Papers The Social Text collective will publish a special issue reﬂecting on the antecedents and consequences of the events of 11 September 2001.doc). as a Microsoft Word attachment (. follow the Chicago Manual of Style.edu . multiculturalism. The author’s name. with numbered endnotes. Please submit papers by e-mail if possible. Hard-copy manuscripts should be submitted in triplicate. NJ 08903 E-mail: misharon@rci.
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